Monday, May 16, 2011

What's Good: The Green Russell

Different situations call for different drinks. Winding down on a summer weeknight? I'll take a Blue Paddle, please. Hot summer afternoon? Tequila and tonic with lime (try it sometime in lieu of a marg). Then there are days when you need a cocktail. A REAL cocktail. Gin. Bourbon. Bitters. Ice. If you're having a "cocktail" day, or even if you just want a really, really good drink, go to The Green Russell (1422 Larimer St., Denver).

Lots of "Prohibition-Style" cocktail joints have been popping up around the country (try Peche in Austin) but its the Green Russell's location (behind Larimer Street, downstairs, not easy to find), the fact that you have to walk through a pie kitchen to get there (fully expecting to pass by Peter Clemenza on the way through), the lighting/fixtures/barstools and general atmosphere, and most importantly, the staff's knowledge of great booze and cocktail artistry - the Russell is a step above any of the "speakeasy's" I've visited.

The bar is owned by the same group that brought us some Denver favorites - Osteria Marco, Mizuna, Bones, and Lou's - so the menu, while limited, is solid - try the "pig in a blanket" for a side-of-pork-twist on an old favorite. But let's be honest go to the Russell for a cocktail, not food, and not even beer or wine for that matter.

The menu has several house-suggested drinks, all are good, but if you want to see the suspender/vest/newsboy-cap-wearing bartenders showcasing their know-how, go with the "Bartender's Choice." Here you will be able to tell your 'tender you like a gin-ish drink with a hint of egg white, or simply "something with bourbon" - or whatever might help ease the trials and tribulations of your previous 10 hours. What you'll get in return is a cocktail made with care - in every sense of the word. You notice the fact that there's a hint of pepper where there has never been before, or that the one giant ice cube keeps your drink cold while not watering down your Leopold's (the Russell is reported to have an ice block-making machine that cranks out 300 lb. blocks that are later cut down, and then chipped down at the bar for that exact reason).

My last visit I asked for "something with rye and bitters" - 10 minutes later (good drinks take time, folks...if you want a vodka/cranberry go to the generic sports bar down the street) what I got was an Old Overholt with (regular) bitters, the house made pepper-infused simple syrup and a blood orange slice/rind for flavor with one large hand-cracked ice cube. It was one of the best cocktail experiences I've ever had. Just what I needed after a cloudy, long day at work.

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